The Harry Potter series of books is completed. When the series was hot discussion in years past, little did people know where the series was headed. I’ve heard very opposite opinions about the stories amongst Christians; whether it be for good or evil for readers. Obviously, a story relating a system of magic is not one to be taken lightly for Believers. Magic in the real world is supernatural. Real world magic is either spiritually good or evil. Real world magic is usually engrossed in some form of religious worship — and not worship to the Lord Jesus Christ.
So let’s start thinking through this together. Why is magic evil? When would it be right to inform and be informed on the subject? Who is susceptible to harmful influences in the magic of the real-world?
Literal vs. Fictional Magic
In fiction, magic usually takes on fictional characteristics that are inconsistent with real-world magic. While there are stories that relate ideals of magicians, wizards, and witches to be true and good, many “hocus pocus” stories don’t want to be all that literal. Is Harry Potter attempting to be literal magic or fanciful? Does the Harry Potter series propose that magic is truly an acceptable, universal, truthful, and positive force of the “real” world?
It doesn’t seem so, based on the telling of the first installment, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. A lot of imagination and creative ingenuity tell a fantasy of a young boy called to a specialized school of magic in a dimension set apart from the world of non-magical people. Most of the magicians in the story are fictitious, and their magical methodology is non-descript. The teachers of magic at this fictional school say there is a good magic and an evil magic. The evil use of magic is called “the dark side of magic” by all characters in the story.
Sound similar to another popular fantasy? In relation to how the magic all works in the Potter book, it frequently reminded me of the force in Star Wars. Do Christians have a moral problem with the force?
Yes. Christians should understand that the supernatural in the real-world is how the Bible describes it works. There is not an abstract force governing the destinies of man and alien throughout the galaxy. Darth Vader is a fantasy character. So is the evil wizard Voldemort of the Harry Potter fables. If Christians are struggling with what is real and what is fictional when they read these stories, then they have major struggles with discernment and probably shouldn’t read the books. If you have sense and know where to draw a mental line between just good imagination and reality, I don’t think that the fictitious laws of morality and magic should hinder one’s understanding of the real world.
What’s to Like About the Story?
Harry Potter is a well-told and intricate story. It’s good youth fiction that adults enjoy reading as well. The distinctions between right and wrong are mostly consistent with those of the real world (magical or no magical forces). Several mysteries are introduced in this first book and just enough of them are answered (and some unanswered) to keep people entertained and interested in continuing the rest of the series. The characters have good dynamics (relationships). Side characters that appear to have little relevance in the beginning have significant developments of their own throughout and to the very end of the book (before the end of the story, you realize just how important seemingly insignificant characters are).
Harry is tested many times over with making simple, yet difficult, ethical decisions. Faced with bullies, family, peers, trolls, and magic itself, Harry must practice discernment to make the wisest choices in his unusual circumstances. Harry doesn’t always make the right ethical choices, but given his developments we see Harry learns from some of his mistakes; making progress towards maturity in his early youth (I think Harry is supposed to be eleven in this book).
Adults in the school that are meant to be role-models have high expectations of their youthful students. While not all children are positive examples to other students, all children are expected to practice self-control and face their academic and social challenges responsibly. It would seem (because it is implied) that the children are not only taught magic but given a moral standard of the right and wrong use of it — quite a feet for this alternative school to pull off.
What’s Not to Like About the Story?
Given this is a magical, fanciful world of magic, some times I would like to know what’s at the foundation of the magical universe and what governs it. It’s not clear that the world Potter lives in does or does not have God, or a force, or something that defines absolutes. Absolutes are all throughout the story, but you’re left to assume their meaning to life without knowing why there is meaning — there just is.
At times, legendary icons of magic history are mentioned from history. Most of these people named are real-world men and women of history (some aren’t) and in all their cases they really weren’t good examples of moral upstanding. One magician mentioned as a “great from the past” is Agrippa — Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (September 14, 1486 – February 18, 1535). If the Agrippa mentioned is the Agrippa of Rome, you can see why conservative and Christian families would object to uplifting such a foe as a positive role-model of times past. Agrippa may not be one of the more notorious historical figures, but there’s little saintly about him either. I’ll also note that it is clever in the story to mention real-world historical people because it returns interest to the real-world and history, but it is misguided at the same time in this book (in my opinion).
In The Wizard of Oz, it’s stated very clearly that “there are good witches and there are bad witches….” This statement does not make up for the fact that it isn’t true in the real-world, but it does make it clear that Oz is very different from the real-world. In this story, witches and wizards are just professions, as it were, and it is the individual witch and wizard that is judged on their own merits as good or evil. This is basically the same scenario as in Oz, but it isn’t as clear an explanation. Very young children might not pick up on this position in the story, and thusly respond more open-mindedly to witchcraft in the real-world.
After I finished the book I saw the film. Here’s what I think: it’s consistent with the book, but not as well-told or thorough. The book is rushed at moments in the film. Relationships of characters, places, events are not explained, so you are left assuming a great deal more from the film. In favor of the movie, there are excellent elements of cinematography, special effects, and soundtrack. I could tell a lot of effort was put into the film to drive the audience’s interest back to the books.
It’s not a story to be taken lightly. There are good reasons readers should gird their minds when reading the book, but no reason why the story cannot be enjoyable, insightful, and scrutinized by readers. More story-telling like that in the story of The Sorcerer’s Stone could lead to some very positive reinforcement of good, clean values and beliefs.
I’m very interested to know what you think about this one. Do you think I’m liberal in my assessment? Is Harry Potter dangerous for youth culture — readers young and old, for that matter? How do you see the lack or presence of redemptive story values in the Harry Potter saga? Help yourself to the comments section.
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